End of the Trip – Farewell to our New Rafikis (Friends)

Final Blog post from genevieve:

Yesterday, we said farewell to our new rafikis (friends) in the slums of Nairobi… What an extraordinary circumstance: four Canadian women, all professionals, all middle-class with upward mobility, befriending, and being befriended by, 13 girls and women from the slums of Nairobi.

You have seen some of our pictures of the slums: houses made of sheets of corrugated metal which offer relative shelter to often big families in spaces of no more than 10 by 12 feet. There is often no electricity, no water, no facilities, no appliances of course… Just enough space for beds that are superimposed and a tiny bench. When there is food to feed the family, it is cooked on a little coal burning stove, much like an unsafe Coleman camping stove.

The plight of the women and their girls is difficult to describe accurately and completely. Think of one of the girls who had a child at 14 or so and whose father sold her to an older man for 20,000 Kenyan shillings ($200). The money was supposed to be used to educate her brother; but it quickly became apparent it had been used to satisfy her father’s alcohol dependence. She escaped the man who had bought her and is now one of the older girls (at all of 19 which she celebrated on October 24…) and teaches other girls life skills. I have met many interesting 19 yeard olds over the years, but never one as wise, as serenely confident and as determined to make a better life for herself, her child and her community. This story illustrates, however palely, how extraordinary our friendship is given all our differences.

But it is not what sets us apart that brought us together but what we found out we have in common. We are all women who can relate to each other’s stories in a personal manner. Like the members of Safe Spaces we met, some have children and love them in the same way we love ours, wanting for them to do better than they did, just like us. We all have dreams for the future and all look for role models. I have found in the slums of Nairobi role models for me. Women who are standing up for their rights, who want to be safe and to realize their full potential. Women who have overcome more in their short lifes (on average, the girls and women we met are around 22 or so) than I ever will in mine. Women who have demonstrated extraordinary (that word again…) resilience in the face of extreme adversity… and who continue to demonstrate it. Women who have chosen to be strong, to smile and to laugh, to undertake a learning journey, to educate themselves and the girls that surround them and to build a community for themselves and all those around them. I have not yet internalized nor do I fully understand everything I learned in the slums of Nairobi but I do know that I now have friends and sisters in Nairobi who are part of my community and that I will strive to support as best as I can. As those of you who know me are aware of, supporting the cause of women is important to me as is supporting education and I am involved in my Montreal community to try to contribute to furthering these causes. I will now also support my sisters in Nairobi in their quest for a better life for women through education. Don’t be surprised if I ask you to get involved! If you want to help Sara, Claudia, Persis and I to help Safe Spaces, we will welcome you to our Friends of Safe Spaces community. If other causes are important to you, find some time to give of your skills and your resources to them. One can never give enough to the communities one belongs to; not only will the communities benefit from your generosity but you will benefit from your involvement even more. In closing, a word about our Employee Engagement Trips at Aeroplan. Although I have accountability for these as part of our Community Engagement portfolio shepherded by Alden Hadwen and her team, I have to say that they are absolutely unique and set us apart from many organizations. There are not a lot of employers, in the Canadian or global landscape, who will arrange for some of their employees to participate in the kind of experience we participated in, allowing them to take time away from work to do so and ensuring all the logistics are taken care of. I’m both proud of, and grateful to, Aeroplan for this opportunity. genevieve

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply